Getting Started with Minipainting

by Kale Brenzi

With many gamers couped up in their homes, now is a better time than ever to pick up a new hobby. We have already seen a big jump in the number of miniatures and painting supplies being sold in our store, as many are using this time to sink their teeth into a new mini project, or just trying to make a dent in the pile of plastic they have stored away.


For those of you who have had interest at potentially diving into this amazing hobby, or even just want to spruce up those grey minis you use for D&D or wargaming, now is a perfect time to give it a whirl! But where to start off? Lucky for you, we have everything you need to get started!


What To Paint?


If you are lucky enough, you may already have the answer to this question right under your nose! Many board games in this day and age come with miniatures of some sort to help enhance gameplay. Examples of this include the popular board game Scythe, which comes with unpainted figures for each faction leader and mechs, or the board game for Dark Souls, which features a slew of high quality figures to keep you busy.

Dark Souls Board Game & Scythe Board Game

If you play RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragon or Pathfinder, you may already have minis for either your characters, villains, and monsters. These single figures are usually small and fairly inexpensive to acquire, so they make great projects for first-timers to the hobby. Companies such as Wizkids and Reaper make great sculpts, and with a very large range, you won’t run out of options anytime soon!

D&D Miniatures

For those of you who prefer tabletop wargaming, games such as Warhammer 40k, Age of Sigmar, and Star Wars: Legion offer detailed minis for use in your games. Whilst wargaming in general can become a pricey hobby, building your collection up slowly over time can mitigate that problem, and many wargaming companies have small but cheap kits you can pick up to get you started. Games Workshop is one such example, as they offer “Easy To Build” kits, which contain the parts for a few models at a very reasonable price. Best of all, these kits really are “easy to build”, so newbies to the painting hobby won’t struggle with small parts to glue, unlike with larger kits.

Warhammer Start Collecting! Easy to Build Kits

Whatever you decide to paint, it is a good idea to make sure that your first few projects aren’t super detailed in design, as it will be harder to paint and may deter you from continuing to paint at all. Whether large or small, make sure your mini or group of minis are somewhat simple in design. A great example would be a Space Marine from the game Warhammer 40k. Large beefy power armour with lots of large surfaces makes for an easy painting project, but the models still have some smaller details to help give a first time painter a good sense for how to paint different scales of detail.


What Tools Do I Need?

After deciding what you want to paint, the next step will be deciding what tools and paints you need to take your chunk of plastic from a dull grey to a figure with detail, colour, and depth.

Paintbrushes

The first tool you will need is a small set of paintbrushes. When looking for brushes, many newer painters will be instantly drawn to brushes with very small and fine tips. Whilst many minis have very small details, it’s much better to get a small yet decent sized brush instead. A lot of minipainting involves having to lay down paint in larger than expected areas. Despite what you may expect, larger brushes can still be used to paint fine details, as long as it has a sharp point at its end. This is probably the most important aspect to deciding which brushes to purchase.

SMS Paintbrushes

So, what types of brushes should you get? Most beginners are recommended to grab one of each of the following brushes to get themselves started:

  • Base Brush (Small or Medium) - This will be your main go-to brush for most areas of your minis, and will help you cover your miniatures with a base coat the most effectively and quickly.
  • Shade Brush (Medium) - This brush features a rounded tip, and is perfect for applying washes to your model quickly and easily. Washes are a thinner and more liquid-like paint, but this will be discussed a bit further into this guide.
  • Dry Brush (Medium) - This type of brush is the most unique-looking out of the bunch, as its bristles are flat and straight, and it doesn’t feature a point at its end. The use for this type of brush is for a technique called drybrushing, an easy way to pick up and highlight details on the textured surfaces of your miniature. This technique will be discussed later.
  • [Optional] Fine Detail Brush - This brush is an optional extra, but can be of some help for slightly more experienced painters. These brushes are simply a smaller version of the base brush, and offer more control when painting harder to reach areas or small details.

Once you have these brushes, you will find that they will provide a solid base for the tools that will see you through a large majority of your painting time.

Preparation Tools

Whilst not vital to the actual painting of your miniatures, having a good set of tools to cut away pesky mouldlines and snip away parts from sprues will come in very handy with almost any project. One very underrated and often overlooked portion of minipainting is the preparation of the model beforehand. Slight bumps of a mouldline may not seem important at the time, but can become unsightly once painted. Taking the time to properly remove excess material and file away unwanted bumps will greatly improve the look of any figure you paint. Below is a short list of recommended tools to help you prepare you projects effectively:

  • Plastic Cutters - This plier-like tool will help you cut the different parts of your models away from the sprue that is used to keep your parts together in the same box.
  • Hobby Knife - The hobbyist's surgical tool, a sharp blade can help you scrap away excess material, or perform some kitbashing to customise your project
  • Super Glue / Plastic Glue - A small bottle of glue to join your miniature’s pieces together, or even to stick them to a base, is essential for almost all painters. Super glue will help you join very small pieces, or allow you to join together non-plastics, whilst plastic glue will melt plastic together for a super strong join.
  • [Optional] Hobby Files (Small) -  While not necessary, a set of small files can help round out unwanted bumps or mouldlines nicely, and are more accurate than trying to do so with a hobby knife.

Paints

Who could forget one of the most essential items to paint your minis, the paint itself! Thankfully, picking the “right” paint is not super important, but there are some things to note when deciding what to use for your figures. As long as the brand you choose is designed for use on miniatures, it is difficult to go wrong.

Paint Brands - The main brands that we recommend are Citadel or Reaper. These brands offer a wide variety of colours and metallics, and each brand has its own benefits:

     

  • Citadel paints are often very vibrant with pigment, and they also offer some of the best wash paints on the market. Specialised types of paint such as dry paints and contrast paints are also available for more experienced painters who wish to grab a pot and paint straight away with little prep. New painters must know that citadel paints must be thinned with a slight bit of water on the palette before application to ensure the paint does not cover any detail.
  • Reaper paints are often thin enough to use straight from the bottle, making them easy for beginners to use. Reaper also produces some interesting coloured metallic paints for those wanting some cool and unique colours on the minis. Whilst the dropper bottle design of the paints make them easy to put onto a palette, they can sometimes become clogged, and will need the occasional poke with a paperclip to get them flowing again.
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    Some other brands like Vallejo are also high quality, but can be a little bit confusing when it comes to figuring which paints to use from their range.

    So, what colours should you pick? As enticing as it is for new painters to want a pot of each colour available, it is a much better idea to stick with some basics, mixing colours together should you need specific tones. For this reason, grabbing yourself some black, grey, and white paint, along with some basic colours and some brown and off-white tones, is a great way to get everything you need without breaking the bank.

    Along with these, grabbing a pot or two of a wash paint can help tremendously to give your project depth. Wash paints (also referred to as “Shades” by Citadel) are a type of paint that is very thin and runny, and by “washing” your mini with a quick coat of it, darkens the recessed areas of your model, giving the illusion of shadow. Giving any model a quick shade with a wash greatly improves the look of it with minimal effort.

    Thankfully, brands like Citadel and Reaper can help take the burden of picking paints away from you by offering various paint kits that include everything you need to start painting. Citadel offers many paint kits that include basic colours and washes, a brush and cutting pliers, and sometimes even a few models to boot! Reaper also offers a similar product that also includes miniatures from their Reaper minis range, plus a snazzy carry case to keep everything organised.

    For the most part, these are all the items you will need to get started with this amazing hobby. There are extra tools such as basing materials, magnets, drills, and more, but these are not needed for the average beginner painter.

    How Do I Paint?

    Painting miniatures in itself is more of an art form, rather than an exact science. However, there are still some good tips to keep in mind when working on your projects, and sticking to a structure of steps will help you get used to the overall process of painting. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Thin your paints
  • This is one of the number one tips that is often the downfall for painters who do not follow it. Having a thinner paint can help to keep the detail on the surface you are painting without clogging it up. Another benefit is that the paint will dry much faster than a thicker coat. Having thick paints leads to clogging of details, long drying times, and brush strokes remaining on your model. But be careful, as thinning your paints too much can cause odd effects, such as spider webbing of the paint, and the paint running off the model. Finding the perfect consistency for your paint is a tricky task, but with practice you will eventually get a feel for how thin your paints should be. Remember, it is much better to do multiple thin coats than one thick coat!

  • Basecoat, shade, highlight
  • These three steps are the core of the painting process. Because miniatures are at a much smaller scale than the real world, light affects them differently. Shadows and highlights are much less pronounced, making it harder to see depth within the model. This is why the amazing miniatures you see on the box art have a higher level of contrast between the shadowed areas and the highlighted.

    When you paint your miniatures, focus on first getting a good solid basecoat of the colours you wish to see on your model. Once you have all your colours laid down, give your model a generous coating of a wash paint, making sure not to have too much of the wash pool up in the recessed areas. Once dry, you will already notice a great difference in the perceived depth of your model. Give the raised and pronounced areas of your model a coat of lighter paint, leaving the deeper areas as they were, and you will have a great looking miniature in no time!

  • Take care of your brushes
  • A tip that even some of the most talented painters struggle with. Having a good, clean brush with a nice pointed tip is paramount to make your painting experience as smooth as possible. The easiest way to keep your brushes in good condition is to make sure you keep the paint away from the base of the bristles. When paint gets into the metal part that holds the bristles (known as a ferrule), it dries and hardens, which in turn causes the bristle to splay and lose their point. Only applying paint to the tip half of the brush will help avoid this issue. Another habit to avoid is leaving your brushes in the water pot. Not only will this dampen the point of the brush by having it constantly sitting on the bristles, it can also loosen the ferrule as the wood of the brush wears away, leading to a whole slew of issues. By simply swirling the brush around the edge of the water pot, and drying the bristles carefully with a paper towel, you can easily avoid damaging your brush. Make sure to store them with the bristles facing upwards.

  • Practice, practice, practice!
  • It may feel disheartening to spend hours of time carefully painting your mini, only for you to take a step back and realise that it doesn’t live up to your expectations. That is okay! Your first mini won’t be perfect. Your second mini won’t be perfect. Heck, even your 20th mini won’t be perfect. But by painting more and more minis, you will naturally begin to find and fix your mistakes, and each miniature will become better and better. Take note of the things you did well on your models, and where you can improve next time. Use this information to practice things that you aren’t the greatest at.

    One good rule of thumb when determining whether a paint job is done well or not is called “tabletop quality”. Will the miniature look good on a tabletop when you are looking at it from a meter or so? Many of the small mistakes you make will not be noticeable without a close look, and for many painters, this is perfectly fine! Minis with paint on them look a lot better than bare grey plastic!

    Just remember to take your time, practice the areas of painting that are your weak spot, and you will be painting beautiful minis in no time!

    Minipainting Kits

    Extra Resources

    So, you are now ready to get painting, but what if you want more advice or tips? Luckily, the internet is a marvellous resource for minipainters and hobbyists alike, and many individuals have taken it upon themselves to help teach beginner and advanced techniques to the masses. 

    Recommended Youtube channels to look at:

    Online Communities & Websites

    Us here at Elandrial Games also host a fortnightly Hobby Session, where people of all skill levels come together to paint minis together, and share their advice and tips with one another. For more info, check out our Facebook page Elandrial Games - Home.

    So what are you waiting for? Grab a mini and a brush, and get painting!

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